Two weeks ago, I revisited a column written in 2008 outlining what I'd do if I were running Google. Now, with nearly three years of hindsight and 300+ pages of Googley Lessons under my belt, here are five things I'd do in the hot seat, er, top seat at Google.
1. Update the mission statement. This was #1 on my original list and will stay perched atop this and any subsequent list until Google addresses it. As Gord Hotchkiss pointed out in his last column, "Google's Mission and the Economic Colonization of the Web," "there are inherent limitations in [Google's mission statement] that may seriously impact Google's revenue stream in the future."
When Google first launched, the goal of organizing all the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful was, well, useful. But, today, the concepts of "all the world's information" and "universal accessibility" don't resonate with most people.
I, for one, don't care about all the world's information. I care about the information that matters to me right now. I don't want a million search results for "restaurant in Chicago for Valentine's Day." I want the one that's best for me. That's why I've begun turning to Facebook with these types of commercial queries. Well, maybe not this one (don't want my wife to see it!) but you get the point. And need I remind you that these types of queries are the most lucrative to advertisers?
I also think the word "information" is too ambiguous. With products like YouTube, Android, and Google TV, Google gives you more than information. It gives you entertainment, navigation, and, of course, ads -- aka commerce. How can we capture all these concepts? How can we incorporate some of the more far-reaching Google projects. like self-driving cars? And how can we remind people of the emotional ends benefit that Google delivers?
Try this on for size...
Google's mission is to give every person in the world the functionality you need, when you need it, to make your life better.
Now that's what I call a BHAG!
2. Do away with engineer 20% time. One of the biggest problems Google faces right now is an exodus of engineering talent. Some of the best and brightest are leaving Google for Facebook, among other destinations, or starting their own companies.
This is not just a matter of compensation. Google recently gave every one of its employees a 10% raise. And, about two years ago, Google repriced employee stock options to give its staff more skin in the game. But, for most engineers, it's not about the money. It's about the time.
Google famously lets engineers devote 20% of their work time to pet passion projects. This is one of the cornerstones of "the engineer's life at Google." But the time has come to do away with that time. I'm not saying letting engineers scratch the entrepreneurial itch is a bad idea. I'm just saying Google can do better.
If I were CEO, I'd launch a startup incubator within Google and let all engineers submit ideas for consideration. I'd open the voting to all Google employees and pick one to two ideas every month that get funded and allow the engineer(s) that came up with them to assemble internal teams to execute. Knowing that, in any given month, you had a chance to create or join a startup within Google would be a pretty darn good reason to stick around. And I bet some pretty darn good ideas would come from it too.
3. Buy MySpace and create a killer social network. More and more people are spending their time online within the walls of Facebook. And, even when they venture out, the websites they visit are often connected to Faecbook via plugins to enhance the experience.
As such, Facebook has become a high-volume origin point for search queries. And the social graph provides important signals for relevance that can be used to improve search results.
Google has lagged in social for too long. Buzz was a bust. Wave was a wash. The key to success in social is critical mass. Buzz and Wave both had cool functionality -- but they were only as good as the number of people using them. And in the case of Buzz and Wave, that wasn't very many.
MySpace represents a shortcut to mass (50 million monthly uniques per comScore) and can be bought on the cheap right now. Tracy Hill commented on my last column that, with MySpace, Google could "own the web as far as music goes." I'm not sure that Google could knock off Apple there -- but, as Google CEO, I'd be more concerned with knocking off Facebook.
A MySpace combined with the best Google has to offer by way of personal expression tools -- for example, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, etc. -- could be just the ticket to a starring role in "The Social Network" sequel. I just hope they can convince Sacha Baron Cohen to play me as Google CEO. Respect!
4. Redefine privacy as personalization. One of the biggest threats to Google (and every company that advertises, partners, or competes with Google) is legislation preventing tracking of online activity such as the "Do Not Track" framework offered by the FTC. Rather than provide a universal "opt-out" for consumers, we need to better showcase the value of personalization.
As Google CEO, I'd launch an aggressive campaign to shed light on the trade-offs involved with "Do Not Track." I'd show the Web circa 2000 with annoying flashing banners. (Sorry, don't know anything about you -- but betcha like punching monkeys!) And I'd show a coin slot that charges people a quarter each time they want to Google something. (Sorry, gotta pay the bills!)
The truth is most people don't even realize they're being tracked by Google. But, of those that do, very few understand that tracking is required for personalization. The recipe for the one perfect search result for each person for each query calls for a healthy dose of cookies. It's time to let people know it's OK to indulge the sweet tooth.
5. Retire. Ah, heck, who am I kidding? Cathy Foster got it right. Retiring might not be the first thing I'd do as Google CEO -- but it would certainly be the last!